Building an Escape Route
The Deuterium Junk and Scrap Yard stood at the far bend of the road. It loomed out of the early morning mists and above a small, grey shack belonging to Mr. And Mrs. Deuterium, both of them non-assuming, yet enterprising solar beetles. They gathered anything and everything at their junkyard, often scavenging along the outer perimeters of Montressor in order to salvage bits and pieces from downed weather satellites or clipper ships or mining vessels or the occasional abandoned personal transport. With their treasures secured atop their broad, smooth backs, they would scuttle home to draw up inventories, then step back and admire their growing pile, their mountain of refuse.
Jim felt very guilty for stealing from them.
Panting, his spine tingling under the growing fear of getting caught, he came to a stop at a sheltered dip in the road. A bright red wagon hovered behind him. A rope had been tied to its front and trailed out, slung over his shoulder. The wagon was old, and had long ago stopped being reliable once outfitted with more than twenty pounds. He figured he wouldn't need more than twenty pounds, but one never knew.
It was early spring, and Jim knew—from the mutterings of Dr. Delbert Doppler, who had recently given up his old heater and sent it to be scrapped—that Mr. And Mrs. Deuterium were on vacation. The junkyard was empty, save for a six-legged guard sverm. Sverm's were bright purple and three feet tall and four feet long and leathery and quick and inclined towards the ferocious and this worried Jim somewhat. Swallowing over a parched throat, he set his shoulders.
If I'm going to do this, I'm going to do this now.He set his shoulders straighter. Now. Not tomorrow, now. A snort from the sverm rose into the still, morning air. Jim's shoulders sagged noticeably, but with a shake of his head he straightened them up again. Gripping the rope, every fiver of his eight-year-old body filling with determination, he made his way down the road.
The junkyard rose up before him, large and dark and forbidding. Tall mounds of plasma toaster ovens and twisted copper lanterns, bent coach wheels, solar powered lawn mowers, and the occasional, rusted parlour lamp clumped together, joined by thick puddles of stagnant rain water. Shrouded in mist, it seemed to be breathing, shifting and settling within itself. Jim was glad for the mist. It might offer a cover from the sverm. Or it might be a cover for the sverm. He decided not to think about that.
On his hands and knees, he crawled towards the back gate. The wagon hovered behind him like an over eager accomplice, bumping against his shoulder. Jim pushed it away and began to scratch at the soft, loose dirt under the gate. He was small and skinny for his age. He was sure he could fit through even the smallest hole he could dig. The dirt was squishy and wet under the surface, and soon Jim had hollowed out enough space to squeeze his head and shoulders through. The rest would be easy.
Once he had wriggled his way under the gate, his face and shirt now streaked with mud, he continued to crawl forward. His spine seemed inordinately large, sensitive to the weight of guilt and fear Jim could feel crawling up his legs. But he pushed forward. He knew what he wanted. Stopping, he looked left and right, searching for the landmark he had noted last week, when he had first spied out the junkyard.
There it is.
A bright yellow land cruiser lay flat on its stomach, its rudder sticking up into the air in a twisted mass of worm eaten wood. Beside it, almost hidden by a chrome sink, was a long, flat board. Jim smiled. It was a sand board, like the kind the big boys used at school. At recess, they would race out towards the artificial dunes set up in the park and swoop and holler and glide and twist in the air and they would sometimes twist so high they seemed to touch the sky. To fly. Jim wanted to do that. But he couldn't afford a sand board. Until now.
With extreme care, teeth firmly clamped over his lower lip, he resumed his slow crawl forward. Pressing his back flat against the land cruiser, he listened for any signs of the sverm. Silence, broken only by a faint, double throated snore. Jim closed his eyes and sighed out his relief through clenched teeth. Squatting, he placed his hands under the sand board. All he had to do was slide it out, inch by inch by agonizing inch by sweat standing out on his brow inch.
It finally came loose with a tiny shower of splinters. The back had been snapped off. Jim smiled at the sight, already envisioning how he could patch it up, plans and diagrams running through his head. Setting the board down, he slid it across the ground. A loud rasp rang out as wood slid over dirt.
A few seconds spun themselves out, slowly. The hair at the back of Jim's neck tingled, and he became aware, acutely, of how bare his long legs were, covered only by rolled up shorts and sandals and nothing else. Jim shuddered. He tried to shift the board onto his back. He could crawl forward with it on top of him. He'd make a great deal less noise.
Please let the sverm not have heard that. Please. I'll never crawl in here again if that sverm'll just lie quietly, sleeping. Over at his side. Not here. Not here not here not here not here.His heart and his prayer became one, thumping rhythmically inside his head. Both skipped a beat when his hand came up against a bony, leathery obstacle. A single blast of hot, pungent breath blew out above Jim's head.
The sverm leaned down slowly, haunches dipping towards the ground, long, pointed purple snout stretching out towards Jim. The boy held his breath. His eyes had widened, his pulse seeming both to speed up and disappear at once. Before the sverm had begun to fully rumble out his double-throated growl, Jim had let out a yelp of fear and alarm. The sverm opened its mouth, a deep, gravely noise rushing out.
Scampering onto his feet, Jim tore off. Somehow, miraculously, he still held the sand board in his hands. I must be crazy! He tightened his grip on it and stumbled forward in a blind rush. His feet pumped out beneath him, pulling him forward. Behind him, he could hear the sverm's nails kicking up loose dirt, its cry now an incessant noise. It sounded like a hammer over nails. Jim whimpered and pushed forward, his throat burning, adrenaline firing up every nerve end.
The gate came into view from an angle, twisted as Jim rounded a corner, the board scrapping along the ground. With a curse, Jim realized an extra piece had snapped off. The next instant, he had slammed into the linked fence. He shook his head and looked back. The sverm had come to a stop, growling. Jim closed his eyes and flung up the sand board. He heard it clatter down on the other side, but he couldn't feel any triumph. The sverm was still there, still growling, still pulling back its lips over three rows of sharp teeth.
It can't be legal to own that thing.
With growing panic, Jim looked around. Anything he could get his hands on was too far away. He had no weapon. His head hung down, a blinding sense of futility threatening to engulf him. His sandals stared up at him. Sandals. Without stopping to think, Jim pulled them off. He held one above his head and aimed at the sverm's nose.
"Hey!" he called out. "Ugly! Chew on this!"
The first sandal hit the sverm along the mouth. The next missed him completely. But in that one instant in which the beast's attention was held by them, Jim turned and grasped the linked fence. He clambered up without a backwards glance, waiting for the moment when the sverm would reach out. He could almost feel its teeth, snapping, tearing.
Pulling himself up onto the top of the fence, stomach pressed against it, one leg looking for a frantic purchase along its length, he felt the fence shudder beneath him. The sverm had rushed forward, throwing its entire weight against the fence. Jim saw the ground below, flat and open and distant. A good thirteen feet fall. Fear shot up his spine. But he had no other choice. As the sverm flung itself against the fence for a second time, Jim allowed his body to drop.
He wasn't sure when he hit the ground. It all happened much too fast and then it had all just blacked out.
* * *
Sunlight filtered beneath Jim's eyelids, and he struggled to open his eyes. His room came into focus gradually, the ceiling blurring and settling with nauseating slowness. Jim became dimly aware of his mother's presence, her voice bouncing inside his subconscious. She was by the door, talking to someone. The faint smell of lavender after shave and musk and old parchment drifted in. It was Doppler.
"No need to blame yourself, Sarah," he was saying, his voice light and airy. "Boys will be boys."
"He could've been killed," Sarah said. Her voice sounded strained. "I don't know what I would've done if Mrs. Linden hadn't driven by and..." She broke off. Jim watched as she covered her eyes, and he felt the earlier guilt settle down on him again.
"Mom," he called out. His voice escaped as a groggy whisper.
Almost at once, his mother's arms were around him, her kisses raining down on top of his head. Jim she said, over and over. Jim burrowed against her chest and allowed her to mess up his hair. Doppler's voice, straining for decorum but no less excited, hovered above them.
"You see? He's as fine and whole as a solid chemical compound. Perfectly all right." He leaned forward and narrowed his eyes at Jim. "You gave your mother quite a scare, young man." He straightened, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose. "But, there, and now you're quite all right and nothing seems to be broken."
Jim sat up, his mother's arms still around his shoulders. "The sand board!" he said. "Did I manage to save the sand board?"
Doppler lifted up a fungus-encrusted piece of wood, missing several inches at the back and sprayed with flaking mud. He pinched its upper edge between stiff, disgusted fingers. "You mean this ...this thing?"
Sarah ran a hand through Jim's tousled hair. "Mrs. Linden found it beside you. She thought it belonged to you."
Reaching out for it, Jim ran his fingers down its worn, dirty side. "It does," he said. "It's going to be mine."
A knowing smile tugged at Sarah's lips. "Oh?"
"Yeah, mom. This is gonna be my sky surfer."
* * *
"He stands alone. Ready. He's been waiting for this moment all his life. You can tell he's focused, deadly focused. If he pulls this off, he'll be the champion. Gold medal."
Shifting his feet, Jim straightened his newly polished sky board flat against the top of the Old Benbow Inn's roof. He had painted the new additions bright blue, the old board a deep purple. Fixing it had been a matter of sawing off the splintered back and gluing on new boards, which he had sanded into a curved shape. He didn't know how well the glue would hold—the package promised industrial strength—but he wouldn't really know until he tested it out.
Sarah's voice drifted up to him from below. "Jim. What are you doing?"
"Nothing, mom," he called, watching as the front tip of his board pointed towards the edge of the roof. It wasn't a steep fall, and Jim anticipated guiding the board towards their docking strip, maybe bringing it down on the smooth ground below. He grinned. "Just watching the sky."
His mother was silent for a moment. Her voice sounded resigned when she finally spoke. "Be careful."
With that, she disappeared into the inn and Jim almost hugged himself with excitement. Flipping a pair of bright yellow goggles over his eyes, he braced one leg against the roof. "The sky surfing legend, James "The Flare" Hawkins, prepares for this one, all important run. The crowd is practically fainting from the anticipation." Jim pushed himself forward with narrowed, steely eyes. "They won't be disappointed."
Wind whistled up to greet him, pushing back his bangs, fluttering out the ponytail at the back of his neck. He felt excitement building, the roof rushing up and around and behind him in a colourless streak. Jim could just make out the edge of the roof in front of him, clear and stark against the blue sky, still in a world of dizzying motion. Trembling from the speed and the somewhat uneven surface, Jim steeled himself for the takeoff.
The world seemed to slow down. For one moment, he hung, suspended. Gravity seemed to have no effect on him, sounds stripped away, the world reduced to a blinding white light of giddiness and triumph. Jim looked up at the bright blue sky and felt a smile stretching out across his face. He was flying. He was really flying.
He was falling.
In a panic, Jim realized gravity had settled back in, pushing him down. Frantically, he tried to twist the board around, catch a wind current, any current. The board wouldn't respond. All it managed to do was dip a bit towards the left. As Jim saw this, he knew it was over. His balance gave out and the board slid out from underneath his feet. For a few seconds, as the ground and the sky switched places, Jim thought he could walk on air. The next instant, he was plummeting down, his arms rising to cover his face.
He crash-landed onto a patch of flowers his mother kept by the inn's entry path, dust and mud and pollen rising all about him. The goggles had been knocked away from his face, and they lay in a crumpled heap by his head. The board thudded down a few feet away, driving itself firmly into the ground. Its new piece clattered off, the glue giving way. Jim gazed at it in silence for a while, his body just beginning to itch and burn from various cuts and scratches and a bruise he could feel growing along his elbow.
With a sigh, he looked up at the roof. He had flown a mere six feet above the ground, probably in a straight line down. Pathetic. Jim closed his eyes and allowed his head to fall back against the soft, pungent earth.
26 February 2003. The idea for this story came to me while I was attempting to remain awake during an LIS 203 Cataloguing lecture [bleary hellos to anyone from St. John's University]. I started doodling out little Jims on solar surfers, and soon I was mapping out what eventually became this story.
In the movie, Sarah tells Doppler that Jim built his first solar surfer when he was eight. This story is what I envision as the first sparks of that idea, hence the non-solar sky board.
Chapter 2, "Summer, Four Years Later," is now up.
© 25 February 2003 Team Bonet. Treasure Planet is © 2002 The Walt Disney Co. The characters of Jim and Sarah Hawkins are © 1881 Robert Louis Stevenson.